Understanding Insulin Resistance
Understanding insulin resistance is the key to taking the steps necessary to lose weight and restore hormone balance. Knowledge is power. As you come to understand insulin resistance you will come to appreciate the importance of maintaining proper blood sugar control through diet and exercise for optimal weight loss and hormonal restoration.
Insulin – A Fat Storage Hormone
Insulin is a major hormone produced by your pancreas to assist blood sugar metabolism and therefore energy production. This hormone plays a key role in transporting blood sugar into the cells where it is rapidly used to power up your body.
Today, the average diet is too high in refined, sugary foods which cause your blood sugar levels to spike rapidly. This places even greater demand on the ability of insulin to control blood sugar levels. More and more insulin is produced by the pancreas to make sure blood sugar in the bloodstream does not get out of control.
When insulin is continuously released over an extended period, the cells in the body begin to ignore the high insulin levels, and become resistant to the hormone’s effects - thereby protecting the cells from the sugar onslaught. When this happens the body must move the blood sugar elsewhere. Initially it can be stored in the liver and muscle tissue; however, when these sites are full the body must then turn to fat cells for storage. At this point, insulin resistance will often cause weight gain to the point of obesity.
Over time this situation leads to insulin resistance syndrome, a common condition where your body is no longer able to control your blood sugar levels.
Sugar cravings, fatigue, irritability and weight gain are common signs of insulin resistance syndrome. These symptoms result when the cells stop responding to the increased insulin and the liver starts converting unused blood sugar into body fat.
The typical Western diet, lacking in nutrients, high in hydrogenated fats and refined and starchy carbohydrates, and low in vegetable protein and fiber, plays a major role in insulin resistance. Other contributing factors include obesity, genetics, a sedentary lifestyle, stress, and chronic alcohol and cigarette use.
Insulin resistance is not just a blood sugar imbalance; your adrenal glands, pancreas, nervous system and liver are all implicated. Successful remedy protocols need to address these issues in addition to dietary and lifestyle changes.
Signs and Symptoms of Insulin Resistance
Insulin resistance is associated with the accumulation of body fat, especially around the abdomen, along with:
- Weight gain
- Ongoing fatigue
- High blood sugar levels
- · Elevated insulin levels
- · High blood pressure
- · Low levels of the ‘good’ HDL cholesterol
- · Elevated levels of triglycerides and ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol
- · Abnormalities in blood clotting
- · Increased inflammation
Some of the indicators of insulin resistance can only be assessed via pathology testing. You may need to discuss some of these tests with your health professional.
Understanding insulin resistance will make you realize how harmful the damaging road to diabetes can be. If you have insulin resistance syndrome, your blood sugar and insulin levels are higher than normal, but not high enough for a Type 2 diabetes diagnosis to be made. However, if lifestyle changes are not made, Type 2 diabetes usually develops.
The good news is that it is possible to turn around insulin resistance by controlling your insulin and blood sugar levels with a natural, healthy balanced diet, targeted remedies and exercise. This will also reduce your risk for Type 2 diabetes, obesity, heart disease and other complications, including polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) if you are female.
Stress and Insulin Resistance
Another reason why understanding insulin resistance is so important is because stress can play a major role. During the stress response, several hormones are released by the adrenal glands to alert the individual to a threat or challenge to the body’s homoeostatic mechanisms. Such hormones include dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), cortisol, adrenaline and noradrenaline, all secreted from your adrenal glands.
Under stress, there can be a breakdown of your muscles, and stored glycogen in the liver can be dumped back into the bloodstream to be stored as fat. Inadequate function of the adrenal cortex may lead to disturbances of carbohydrate, fat and protein metabolism. This stress effect on your body may progress to hypoglycemia and insulin resistance.
An inability to cope with stress is a common feature of insulin resistance. Classic signs and symptoms of adrenal stress include anxiety, insomnia and altered moods.
New research suggests that, over time, the regular use of stress management techniques can significantly reduce blood glucose levels in Type 2 diabetics. Given the consequences of stress listed above, it is very important that stress coping techniques form an integral component of your treatment plan for insulin resistance.
PCOS and Insulin Resistance
Understanding insulin resistance may help you understand why you have PCOS in the first place and some of the associated symptoms (although not every woman with PCOS will have insulin resistance, but 80% do). A diet high in refined carbohydrates leads to insulin resistance syndrome putting you at risk of developing PCOS.
Elevated insulin levels promote androgen production. It is these androgens, or male-type hormones, that prevent or cause irregular ovulation. Over time this results in infertility and other menstrual problems. The distressing physical signs of PCOS, such as acne, skin pigmentation and excess body hair are also due to excessive androgen levels.